OSHA recently published a new document in its Fatal Facts series. Titled Asphyxiation in a Sewer Line, the document emphasizes employers’ responsibilities to protect workers from confined space hazards while working in sewer line manholes. The document includes references to the new Confined Spaces in Construction Standard that takes effect on Aug. 3, 2015.

OSHA uses the term “fatal facts” to describe cases that are representative of employers who failed to identify and correct hazardous working conditions leading to fatalities at their worksites. The fact sheets offer ideas on how to correct these hazards and educate workers about safe work practices. The Asphyxiation in a Sewer Line fact document is based on a case in which a construction worker suffocated after entering a manhole. OSHA says the worker died from asphyxiation after entering a manhole with an uncontrolled hazardous atmosphere.
According to OSHA, although the manhole was newly constructed and was not yet connected to an active sewer system at the time of the incident, it contained a hazardous atmosphere that led to asphyxiation. The employer had not ensured that atmospheric hazards were identified and precautions for safe operations implemented before starting work at the site.

Additionally, OSHA says that:
-Workers were not trained to recognize confined space hazards and to take appropriate protective measures.
-The atmosphere in the manhole was not assessed to determine if conditions were acceptable before or during entry.
-Proper ventilation was not used to control atmospheric hazards in the manhole.
-Protective and emergency equipment was not provided at the worksite.
-An attendant was not stationed outside the manhole to monitor the situation and call for emergency services.
To prevent similar occurrences, OSHA advises that employers whose workers who will enter one or more permit-required confined space (PRCS) must implement a PRCS program for safe permit space entry operations (29 CFR 1926.1203(d), 29 CFR 1926.1204). Such programs include the following requirements:
-Provide training to workers at no cost to them in a language and vocabulary they understand, as required in 29 CFR 1926.1207, on how to safely perform permit space duties before their first assignment and as necessary.
-Prohibit entry into permit spaces until hazardous conditions (atmospheric and physical) present are identified, evaluated, and addressed (29 CFR 1926.1204(b)&(c)).
-Eliminate or control atmospheric hazards by ventilating, purging, inerting or flushing the permit space as necessary (29 CFR 1926.1204(c)(4)).
-Perform pre-entry testing for oxygen content, flammable gases and vapors, and potential toxic air contaminants (29 CFR 1926.1204(e)(3).
-Continuously monitor the permit space to verify that atmospheric conditions remain acceptable during entry (29 CFR 1926.1204(e)(1)(ii)).
-Provide essential equipment to workers with training on proper use, including: •Personal protective equipment when necessary (29 CFR 1926.1204(d)(4)).
-Rescue and emergency equipment to authorized workers, or implement procedures for rescue and emergency services (29 CFR 1926.1204(d)(8)&(i), 29 CFR 1926.1211).
-Station at least one trained attendant outside a permit space to perform all attendant’s duties (29 CFR 1926.1204(f); 29 CFR 1926.1209).

The full Fatal Facts document is available (along with other fact sheets on oil and gas, agriculture, construction, and engulfment) at https://www.osha.gov/Publications/fatalfacts.html

Workplace Safety & Health Co. can help you understand the definition of a confined space and a permit-required confined space and how it might apply to your workplace.